By John Walker on May 2nd, 2012 at 3:00 pm.
Every now and then I look at what’s new on Steam, give things a play to see if they’re worth covering. One of their number was MacGuffin’s Curse – a 2D top-down game with echoes of any number of late 80s puzzlers. But quickly realising it was a block-pushing doodah I figured, nah, no more of those. And then carried on playing. And carried on. And then played it over the weekend a bit. And have started playing it again on Monday… Which means, at a certain point, I have to admit I’ve room for another block-pushing puzzler. So, here’s Wot I Think.
To be fair, there’s a bit more to it than that. While most of the game does come down to figuring out how to push the battery block onto the battery slot in each scene, it’s surrounded by a story, missions, and turning into a werewolf.
The premise here is you’re a bit of a thief scamp, with pretty much no money and a daughter and grandmother to look after. Living in a crappy house with no furniture, you are on a heist to steal an amulet of some purported worth. Except, when you put it on you find you can’t take it off, and stepping into moonlight you’re able to turn into a werewolf. Which is going to prove useful.
After that intro sequence of puzzles, you’re given a surprisingly large town to explore, made up of multiple regions, each containing some friendly areas with other characters to talk to/take quests from, and lots and lots of puzzle screens. Puzzles are predicated on your ability to change into a wolf form, and thus have lots more strength. That means you can now move blocks that weakling MacGuffing cannot. However, it also means you can’t use buttons on machines, open or close doors, nor cross water. That’s the rather arbitrary set of rules that are in place, to make each screen a complex conundrum, figuring out how to reach a patch of moonlight, but still be able to cross that water to reach that block to change back to press that switch… and so on.
Usually I find such puzzles immensely annoying. And especially so when it’s possible to screw up a screen and have to start over. But here I’m okay with it. I’m trying to figure out why.
I think it’s partly because the game is far less impersonal than these things tend to be. The character has a life, and a reason to be shoving these crates around. As you complete tasks, find cash, and get paid for helping people out, it gives you money to spend in a dodgy pawn shop to fill your house with furnishings. And alongside that (because dollhouse fittings aren’t really enough) you’re progressing through the story too. A story of a corrupt man taking over the town, putting ridiculous curfews on the inhabitants, and outlawing all forms of fun. (Even the chessboards in the park are chained up…)
Along with this, there are a lot of adventure sensibilities in place. Those chained up chessboards – look at them and MacGuffin will have a line about that, in one case questioning the efficacy of such a move. And there are extraordinary numbers of unique lines. Every bench, chair and light fitting has a gag written for it, naturally eventually riffing on the fact that it’s the 100th line about a light fitting the poor bastards had to write. And this rule applies to paintings, statues, potted plants… And even more remarkable, very often there’s another unique line if you’re in your wolf form. Conversations with other characters are generally a lot of fun, and there’s an overriding silliness to everything.
You have support in your journey. Via radio a rather suspicious fellow is helping you out, and should you get stuck on a screen he can offer hints. Get completely stuck (or on a couple of occasions in my experience, get exasperated with a particularly fiddly puzzle) and he’ll even complete it for you. It means constant progress, which is something most games could flipping well learn a lesson from. And yet, despite its being there, I haven’t found it tempting me away from trying to solve the trickier rooms. There’s a decent degree of satisfaction from getting there on your own, and skipping such things somewhat defeats the core purpose of playing.
However, difficulty is a little odd. While it certainly ramps up from the simpler early screens, it does then get a bit sporadic. An incredibly tough room can appear before a series of relatively easy ones, making the pacing feel a bit off. And I think my patience for this sort of thing gets properly tested in puzzles involving the metal crates, that can only be pushed, not pulled. That means they get stuck on walls, in corners, etc, which is a guaranteed restart for the room. And having to restart is never much fun. Fortunately those are in the minority, and it’s mostly about forcing you to think hard. Which is generally a good thing. There’s far more going on here than you’d expect from a puzzle game, and it deserves to be lauded for that alone.
One issue. The game recently patched itself, and it seems to have done something horrible to my savegame, losing all useful words, replacing them with “
It’s also enormous. I’d be impressed if someone finished it in under ten hours, which for a £4 game is pretty stunning value. For a gag-laden brain challenger, which personality and smarts, that’s a fantastic bargain. Well worth a look. Oh, and he does the best dance every time you complete a puzzle.
MacGuffin’s Curse is £4 on Steam, and there’s a demo on the store page too.